This was an advertisement near our home: “More Happiness, More Drunk.”
What’s the product?
Gotta’ be beer . . . maybe champagne . . . wait, this is China . . . could be Bai jiu (Chinese white lightning strategically distilled to taste like kerosene and render unconsciousness).
Nope. You’re all wrong. It’s for wedding pictures.
It does bring up an interesting conversation though — Culture and alcohol.
Nothing has helped me understand the significance of cultural differences as much as alcohol. Wait. That didn’t come out right.
Perspectives on drinking speak volumes about culture.
Drinking in the East
In China and other Asian nations drinking is a business event. In fact it is often expected, before any real business is even discussed, that parties interested in working together will drink . . . and then drink some more. It’s no place for lightweights because the entire end goal is to drink until somebody (or everybody) drops. The whole thing begins with a toast and one word which is often mistranslated as “Cheers.” “Ganbei” carries the same basic intent (“let’s drink”) but literally means “empty your glass sissy boy.” So they do. And again. And again. And the natural progression moves from quiet and respectable to loud and laughing and finally to near silence and grown men holding other grown men while they vomit.
Here’s the key. It is the beginning of a relationship. It’s a relationship where, ultimately money will be changing hands and reputation will be laid on the line. It’s a relationship which can only be built on one thing.
Drunk people say stupid things. They drop their inhibitions and they act like bumbling morons. Frankly speaking, if your afraid to get drunk in front of your new business partner then you must be hiding something.
The Chinese Businessman says, “If you won’t drink . . . I can’t trust you.”
Drinking in the West
Drinkers in the West are a specialized breed. “Drink til’ you drop” is the longstanding battle cry for every stereotype in a frat house or on Spring Break. These are not the individuals in our societies that are famous for qualities like responsibility and trustworthiness. These are people who miss entire semesters of Political Science with a hangover and show up late to Speech with lewd messages written across their foreheads in permanent marker. And honestly, these are our most respectable drunks. At least they are young and stupid but once they get out of college they have no excuse.
Now move that into a business dinner. Drink with your meal? Your choice. A toast to a good business deal? Sure. Hoisting your potential business partner onto your shoulders and singing “Come on Irene.”
The Western Businessman says, “If you do drink . . . I can’t trust you.”
You can see the dilemma. When East meets West trust can be an issue.
Unfortunately it’s not because either side can’t be trusted. It’s simply because when they look at the exact same thing they see something completely different.
That’s the heart of miscommunication.
It works for married people too.